Ukraine's Tymoshenko claims breakthrough in Russo-Ukraine gas talks

( dpa ) - Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Thursday claimed a wide-reaching breakthrough in talks with Russia on natural gas, making possible a stabilization of energy supplies to Europe.

Tymoshenko, speaking to reporters in Kiev's Boryspil airport, said executives from the Russian natural gas monopolist Gazprom had agreed to key conditions long disputed between Ukraine and Moscow, setting the stage for an end to years of acrimony and even gas-supply cut-offs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had during the two-days of talks supported a Ukrainian request to change the terms of an existing contract between Gazprom and Ukraine to remove middleman companies owned by Gazprom and, according to Tymoshenko, Ukrainian businessmen associated with organized crime.

"Putin said, 'We don't need middlemen'," an ebullient Tymoshenko said.

Ukraine in return had given a first-ever agreement to Gazprom calculations of gas burned by Ukraine but not paid for: 4 billion cubic metres at a price of 130 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres.

The terms, described by Tymoshenko as "additional debt," would make the size of Ukraine's outstanding gas obligation to Russia 520 million dollars - substantially less than the 1.5 billion dollars claimed by Russia at the outset of negotiations.

Tymoshenko was adamant that the agreement had in fact been reached.

"Both sides have agreed to these terms," she said.

In a possible hedge to final Ukrainian agreement, Tymoshenko said the 4 billion cubic metres of gas burnt "was a larger figure than our delegation had expected" and "our government will have to check the facts presented us (by Gazprom)."

The Kremlin had no immediate response to Tymosenko's remarks, made well after the end of the work day in Moscow's time zone.

Kiev and Moscow have argued for more than a decade on the precise size of Ukraine's debt for gas already used, confounding attempts to place fuel shipments from Russia to Ukraine and onwards on a stable footing.

The talks between a delegation headed by Tymoshenko and Gazprom officials headed by chairman Aleksei Miller, were described as "grueling" by Ukraine's Channel 5 television channel, citing an unnamed official inside the Ukrainian delegation.

Ukrainska Pravda magazine, a leading Ukrainian opposition publication, showed pictures of Oleh Dubina, head of the Ukrainian energy company Naftohaz Ukrainy, gripping a chair and grimacing during a Moscow photo session.

Back pains had seized Dubina during the five-hour Thursday negotiating session, forcing him to receive medical assistance, the magazine reported.

The talks ended on a seemingly sour note, with a tight-lipped Tymoshenko refusing comments to reporters in Moscow, and a joint press statement by Tymoshenko and Miller cancelled without explanation.

Some 80 per cent of Gazprom's exports to Europe travel through Ukrainian pipelines - roughly one third of Europe's entire supply of the blue fuel. Gazprom had threatened to shut off shipments if Ukrainian non-payment continued.

A gas-pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine in late 2005 led to a reduction in Russian gas delivered to Europe, producing retail price spikes as far away as France.

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